How to Get Your First Muscle Up : Your Ultimate Plan

Muscle Up Series Part I – Framework Movement Circuit

The muscle-up is a complex skill requiring great strength, coordination, and flexibility. In part 1 of this series, Framework Movements are broken down with drills and progressions for all skill levels. These are to be incorporated into a quick and easy circuit designed to help you build a strong foundation for your first muscle-up. The Framework Movement Circuit should be consistently performed two days a week for about 10 minutes before or after your workouts.

In Part 2 of the Muscle Up series, “The Top 5 Transitional Movement Drills to Help Get Your First Muscle Up” will be explained to be incorporated into your program connecting all the framework movements.


Frame Work Movements – Drills and Progressions

Framework Movement #1 – Ring Swing

Being able to generate momentum and bringing yourself into solid positions in the front and back swing will help improve your muscle up if strength doesn’t come easy for you.

Three tips:

  • To prevent the rings from swinging back and forth excessively, use your core and lower body to initiate the swing.
  • In the front swing, kick and lead with your toes, keep your head in, all while pulling your shoulders back, and maintaining a rounded hollow position.
  • In the backswing, drive your heels back with straight knees maintaining a tight arch position.  When transitioning to the back, push the rings out to the side and turn your palms out to allow for increased range in your shoulders.

See previous post “Top 5 thoracic mobility drills to improve overhead pressing” to be able to increase your mobility for a larger backswing.



Framework Movement #2 – Ring Row/ Ring Pull up

Ring Row/Pull Up Progressions:

A strong ring row and ring pull-up will give you the ability to increase the power for the first part of the muscle-up transition. Increasing your row and pull up strength will be helpful whether you are working for your first strict muscle-up or kipping muscle-up. Select a progression listed below that matches your ring row and pull up ability. You want to find a progression you will be able to do ten reps of and select that for your Framework Movement Circuit. The row and pull up will be separated and added into your Day 1 circuit and Day 2 circuit, respectively.

Ring Row/Pull Up Progression # 1

With your feet on the floor in front of the rings, grab on to the rings and hang with a straight body and straight arms.  Next, slowly pull your chest to the rings and then lower back down.

Ring Row Progression #2

Place your feet on a box in front of the rings allowing your feet to be above your shoulders.  With your body straight, pull your chest to the rings, hold at the top for 2 seconds, then lower back down.  Start with a low box and progress to a higher box as able.

Ring Row Progression #3

Place your feet on a box in front of the rings allowing your feet to be above your shoulders. With a weighted vest on, perform a ring row as explained in progression #2 (hold at the top for 2 seconds and lower down slowly).

Ring Pull up Progression #2

Jump from the floor or a box to the top of a pull-up position, bend your knees, and then lower yourself down slowly. When you reach a full hang, immediately jump back up to complete another rep.

Ring Pull up Progression #3

Hanging from the rings and your feet not touching the floor, perform a ring pull up. The goal of the pull up is to bring your chin to the level of the rings. If you are only able to do 1-2 reps on this progression, performing progression #3 and immediately doing progression #2 in your Framework Movement Circuit is a good idea to improve your strength while maintaining a high-intensity level.

TIP #1 –Whether your goal is a strict or kipping muscle-up, if you plan on using a false grip, doing these hanging movements with a false grip is a great way to build comfort with the hand position.


Framework Movement #3 – Low Ring Dip Hang

Shoulder Mobility Drill:

This shoulder mobility drill will be incorporated into your circuit to help prevent injuries. It will also make the whole muscle-up easier by improving your flexibility. There is a great deal of upper body flexibility required during the end of the transition in a muscle-up. And this drill will allow you to gain and maintain the needed range.

With your legs resting on the floor, hold the rings and position yourself at the bottom of the dip position. Keep the rings tight to your chest, and slowly take your feet off the floor as able to increase the stretch. This is to be held for a constant 30 seconds.


Framework Movement #4 – Ring Dip

Ring Dip Progressions:

The ring dip is the final portion of a muscle-up. A strong dip and ring support will allow for safety on top of the rings and the ability to complete to move with ease. Find an appropriate progression that matches your skill level to put into your Framework Movement Circuit.


Progression #1 – Ring Support hold

With straight arms, the goal is to hold yourself up with a straight body on the rings with the rings held still. This should be able to be held for a solid 10-15 seconds. This is a good place to start if you are not able to complete a ring dip. You may use a band under legs if required for extra support.

Progression #2 – Ring dip w/band

With a band under your knees, slowly lower down as far as you’re able and then return to support. The goal is to be able to 10 end range dips with a band. Then progress to trying the dip with no support. Try not to bounce at the bottom and perform slowly.

Progression # 3

Ring dip – From a Support hold, without assistance, lower yourself to the bottom of the dip. Then return to the top. If you are only able to do 1-2 reps on this progression, performing progression #3 and immediately doing progression #2 in your Framework Movement Circuit is a good idea to improve your strength while maintaining a high-intensity level. NOTE: Try not to bounce at the bottom and perform slowly.


TIP – Whenever performing any supports above the rings, being able to keep the rings as close as possible to your body will allow for an easier movement.


After reviewing the drills and identifying your best progression for each Framework Movement, it is time to put in the work.   Two times a week, perform a short circuit incorporating all the Framework Movements. You will place your Row progression in Day #1 and pull up progression in Day #2.

Complete 2-4 weeks of performing your individualized Framework Movement Circuit. Then reassess your progressions for Framework Movement #2 and #4. Make changes to these progressions in your circuit. Continue to perform and progress to gain and maintain the strength needed to get your first muscle up and link multiple.

Example Framework Movement Circuit

  1. Shoulder Mobility Drill – 30 seconds
  2. Row progression on rings – 10 reps
  3. Ring dip progression – 10 reps
  4. Ring Swing – 10 swings
  5. Rest 1 min

*Repeat the Framework Movement Circuit for a total of 3 rounds.

Remember to scale the progressions or mix a higher progression with a lower progression of each movement so you can perform ten solid reps each round.


Add these Framework Movement Circuits in your weekly programing to consistently improve your ability to get your first muscle-up. If you can perform all of the movements and have gotten your first muscle-up already, continue to perform this Circuit with increased reps to maintain your strength and increase your ability to link muscle ups with less fatigue.



Zach Aguiar is a Doctor of Physical Therapy.   He has an extensive background in gymnasticsvas a member of the NCAA Division 1 Temple Owls from 2009-2013. Zach was a 4X Junior Olympics National Championships Qualifier and competed Rings for Temple at the 2012 NCAA Championships. He started Crossfit in December of 2015 and is a member of Crossfit Merrimack, located in Lowell, MA.

If you have any questions about specific drills or how to develop the best circuit to maximize your potential, email Zach at

Follow Zach on Instagram for continued gymnastic drills/skills and physical therapy techniques for CrossFit athletes.